“Let me tell you a little secret: print is not dead.”

By David Meiklejohn and Callum McSorley

Flipping Pages Media founder and digital publishing consultant Peter Houston started day two at the INSP Conference 2014 by confronting the big technological question: how do we go digital and keep our vendors at the centre of the transaction?

Though alternative digital publishing methods are on the horizon, Houston said we should not dismiss the value of print.

“People have been using forks for thousands of years. Now some idiot tried to invent a spork, but we’re all still using forks!” he argued.

“Let me tell you a little secret: print is not dead.”

For Houston, it is not about going digital – it is about street papers going multiplatform.

Social media can be used now to boost magazine sales, he said. “Social media is the heartbeat between editions. It always gives people a reason to think about you, to think about the vendors so they stop and buy the magazine.”

Some street papers have already been able to do this successfully. Z! Amsterdam recruits vendors to use Twitter, where they can speak directly to readers and share their stories and jokes.

“It’s a new way of giving our vendors a voice. It really works on Twitter, it’s great and it’s very hard to get that in the paper. It’s an easy way to get your vendors to talk about what they find interesting and a great way to get vendors into your operation,” said director and editor, Hans van Dalfsen.

The Big Issue UK has also been successful in setting up a series of gigs around the country with busker-turned-megastar, Passenger, all organised through social media – raising awareness of street papers and homelessness with a younger audience they hadn’t reached previously.

As vendors rely on customer interaction – selling the physical magazine on the street – many papers are wondering how to adapt and survive in the digital world.

Paul McNamee, editor of The Big Issue UK warned that to avoid tackling the tricky subject would be “sticking our heads in the sand”.

Meanwhile Alan Attwood of The Big Issue Australia compared street papers to vinyl records.

“I’ve started to have this naïve, perhaps deluded, idea that one of the reasons sales of a lot of street papers are holding firm is that, perhaps, there is a real advantage these days to being a real, old fashioned print publication,” he said.

“It’s a bit like LP records, they were meant to be gone but now they’re back and cooler than ever. So I actually wonder if to remain as a predominantly print publication may actually be a clever survival strategy.”